UPDATE: Governor Christie signed this bill into law on August 10, 2015!
According to CDC director Thomas Friedan, “heroin use is increasing rapidly across all demographics.” Roughly 1 in 50 heroin users will die of overdose each year. In New Jersey, death by heroin overdose is more common than homicide, suicide, or even death due to car accidents. The numbers are staggering. In 2013 there were 741 heroin deaths in New Jersey, a number triple the national rate. The number continues to rise with 781 deaths in New Jersey in 2014. And in Camden and Atlantic Counties the number of heroin overdoses was greater than the number of deaths due to flu or pneumonia combined. But why New Jersey?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that heroine is being trafficked heavily through Port Elizabeth and Port Newark. Recent tests done by the Drug Enforcement Administration found that the types of heroin being sold and consumed in New Jersey are more pure than samples found anywhere in the US.
The Director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy believes that “Access to medication-assisted treatment can mean [the] difference between life and death.” Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the gold standard for treating opioid dependence. Currently, most drug courts in New Jersey do not allow drug court participants to use MAT, even if it is recommended by a treatment professional or doctor. Drug court participants who are on MAT are usually required to discontinue their treatment in order to “graduate” or complete their drug court program. Demanding that an individual discontinue legitimate, necessary medication that supports their recovery and progress is morally, legally and medically unacceptable.
On June 25, 2015 a bill that is part of a broader package to address New Jersey’s addiction problem passed both houses. Bill S2381/A3723 would allow those who are in the special probation drug court programs to graduate with medication-assisted treatments, defined as the use of any medications approved by the federal FDA to treat substance use disorders, in combination with behavioral therapy and counseling. This bill clarifies that any urine test for drug or alcohol use conducted in the course of the drug court program which shows a positive result for an individual using medication-assisted treatment would not constitute a program violation unless the positive test result is for substances unrelated to the individual’s medication-assisted treatment. This change impacts incarceration and recidivism for drug violations.
The bill was approved by the Assembly with a vote of 76-0 and the Senate with a vote of 39-0. It now sits on the Governor’s desk, awaiting his signature. Christie has spoken out in favor of addiction treatment for heroin in the past. “I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years is it just hasn’t worked,” he said. “And there are some people who make one bad choice to try drugs one time and their particular chemistry leads them to be an addict from the minute they try it. So we need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders but having mandatory treatment is something that’s going to yield a much greater result for society in general and for those individuals in particular.“ In 2014 Christie expanded a statewide Narcan program which equipped thousands of first responders with the ability to administer a life-saving antidotal medication that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. While the governor campaigns for the presidency we need to remind him that he has a job to do here in New Jersey. Write Governor Christie and urge him to sign S2381/A3723, keeping addicted people out of prison and on the road to recovery.